Here are the things you must know and practice if you want to improve your writing skills in Years 9 & 10.
During years 9 and 10, students will begin to respond to texts using increasingly complex forms and structures. This requires clear and concise expression. The easiest way to throw away marks in years 11 and 12 is by demonstrating poor writing skills.
This English Writing Skills Guide will give you five clear methods to improve your writing.
Learn your grammar rules. Not adhering to the rules of grammar will needlessly cost you marks in exams and on your take home assignments. MS Word and Apple Pages point out some spelling errors and some grammatical mistakes, but they are by no means foolproof. Often you will need to use terms that are not in a word-processor’s dictionaries. Word-processors often misidentify sentence fragments and grammatically correct sentences. Relying on computers to spot your errors, rather than avoiding them in the first place is a perilous way to write. It is far better to know the main rules beforehand and apply them correctly in the first instance. You won’t have access to spellcheck in an exam. Common grammatical mistakes by students include:
Sentence fragments – A complete sentence requires at least a subject and a verb. The common structures for sentences are:
subject + verb + object (for example, “The sentence lacked a verb.”);
or subject + verb (for example, “Sentence fragments are ungrammatical”). You must ensure that your sentences include a subject and a verb.
A sentence fragment is a sentence that lacks either a subject or a verb.
Consider the following sentences:
Julia always practices her grammar. Worrying that she will fail her exams because of a sentence fragment.
The second sentence is not an actual sentence. It is a fragment and cannot stand on its own. It needs to be combined with the first sentence to make sense because it lacks a subject. This can be corrected to be one sentence:
Because she worries about failing her exams due to a sentence fragment, Julia always practices her grammar.
Alternatively, the second sentence could be made complete:
Julia always practices her grammar. She worries that she will fail her exams because of a sentence fragment.
Follow this rule: if a sentence cannot stand on its own, revise it so that it can!
Apostrophes – Students often omit apostrophes or confuse them with plural forms. An apostrophe is used for two possible reasons: 1) to denote ownership of a thing (“Paul’s grammar book”); 2) to denote a contraction (“It’s” which is a contraction of “it is”).
The rules for possessive apostrophes are:
Possession: If you are signalling that something possesses something else you need to follow the subject noun with an apostrophe and an “s” before stating the object they possess. For example, “the teacher’s grammar book.” In this example the “grammar book” belongs to “the teacher.” When you are referring to multiple subjects you move the apostrophe to after the ‘s’. For example, “the teachers’ grammar book,” presents a plural owner of the book – a group of teachers. In the case of a noun that forms the plural in an irregular way, like ‘oxen’ or ‘women,’ you use the same rule as the singular: ‘the oxen‘s concerns are warranted.’
Contraction: If you are using an apostrophe to mark a contraction you must ensure that the word is a contraction. Students often confuse the possessive “its” with the contraction for ‘it is,’ “it’s.” If you are in doubt, read the sentence aloud without contracting the word. Reading the phrase “you’re coffee mug” aloud will indicate that there is an error somewhere as “you’re” is a contraction for ‘you are’. The phrase should read “your coffee mug.”
Plural Agreement – Plural agreement occurs when the number of the noun, whether it is singular or plural, matches the number of the verb.
For example, “the sentence is grammatical” combines a singular noun – “sentence” – with a singular verb phrase – “is grammatical”. It would be wrong for us to say, “*the sentence are grammatical” or “*the sentences is grammatical.”
To avoid this, simply read the sentence out loud. If you are using the wrong form of the verb, you will know. Replace it with the right form of the verb.
When we write sentences we usually use the active structure – subject + verb + object. For example,
“The boy throws the ball.”
In this sentence, “the boy” is the subject, “the ball” is the object,” and “throws” is the verb. This is an “active” sentence. It is active because the subject of the sentence is acting on the object. The boy is doing the throwing. This is the ideal way for us to communicate clearly. When you compose your sentences, check to make sure that the subject of the sentence is acting on the object.
The passive voice is formed by moving the object into the subject position and transforming the verb from the simple present to the past participle, using a form of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’:
‘the ball was thrown by the boy’
Sometimes the passive voice is perfectly acceptable, as when you want to draw attention to the object. If you’re writing about the play Hamlet, then ‘Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare’ might make more sense than ‘William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet,’ since you’re writing about the play, not the author. But in many cases the active form is better, and more active sounds make for a clearer essay.
Students often refer to texts as if they are objects that only exist in the past. This is not the case. We engage with texts in the present. Shakespeare may have written four centuries ago, but his texts are still with us. When we write about Shakespeare’s texts, or anybody else’s for that matter, it avoids confusion for us to write about them in the present tense. A good rule is to discuss the text in the present tense when discussing it, and the past tense only when discussing the sequence of events in it.
For example, “J.K Rowling characterises Hermoine Granger as an independent and capable woman in the Harry Potter series.”
This is a convention you need to follow, and it’s a simple one. Keep to the simple present tense when describing texts.
Run-on sentences are sentences that contain a sequence of main clauses that are not properly separated using punctuation or conjunctions.
Consider this sentence:
“The assignment is nearly due I will not finish it in time.”
This is a run-on sentence. There are two complete main clauses in it. We can simplify this sentence into two sentences:
“The assignment is nearly due. I will not finish it in time.”
Or we can mark the separate clauses with punctuation with colons, semi-colons, dashes, or commas and conjunctions:
“The assignment is nearly due: I will not finish it in time.”
“The assignment is nearly due – I will not finish it in time.”
“The assignment is nearly due, and I will not finish it in time.”
Run-on sentences don’t represent how we actually speak language. You would never say “The assignment is nearly due I will not finish it in time” without taking a pause between “due” and “I.”
If you want to improve your writing, the best thing you can do consistently is read. Read widely and in a variety of mediums and genres. Reading will expose you to examples of how others construct sentences and paragraphs. Reading widely will introduce you to a variety of different registers and writing styles. Reading will improve your grammar. Reading will increase your vocabulary. If you want to be able to convey complex ideas concisely you need to possess a comprehensive vocabulary. The more you read, the more new words you will see and learn how to use.
Reading consistently will help you acquire the other four skills we have discussed.
If you want to improve your writing, read! Read often! Read widely! Read for fun! Check out Year 9 & 10 (Stage 5) Recommended Reading List for some good reads!
If your child is struggling with English presently, Years 9 and 10 are crucial years to help them get on top things. The study skills and practices that they learn now will stay with them through High School, university, and beyond. Developing your child’s English skills has benefits beyond the classroom and an ATAR. Why not see how Matrix can help your child succeed? Book a Free Trial Lesson now, and see why more than 4500 students attend Matrix each term.